Saturday, July 12, 2008
Dismaying Story #125: Feeling Trapped
Thank you for taking time to read this, as I am terrified and confused about my state of being. My closest peers know what I’m going through and I’ve received their input, but I don't know what to think about my situation and I’m so terrified.
I am 23 years old and I am still living with my single mother. Ever since I could remember, the slightest thing would set her off: If I asked her a question she didn't like, if I offered an opinion that was unlike hers, or if I talked too much while she was watching something. My earliest memories are of her screaming at me. When I was four, she started dating this man who was not very nice to me and insisted on nicknaming me "Little Bitch." I would not say he was physically abusive, but he was a real hot head and got mad as quickly as my mother. He impregnated her and they had my brother and stayed together while they both fought physically and verbally.
When they broke up my mother started physically abusing me and didn't stop until I threatened to call the cops on her this year. She always said I’d be "screwing truckers at 15" and I wasn't going to amount to anything. I tried calling child services on her, but it only made her mad and the rest of my family mad. I didn't know what to do.
Now, I’m 23, I’m trying to save a car, but my money is all in her possession, she screams at me for everything, even dragging my feet, and sometimes she'll be so nice and then she'll set off into criticizing me for not going to college (she refused to fill out Financial Aid forms, so I cannot afford it), and calls me a loser. She barges into my personal life, tells me who to date, who to hang out with, and she gets really suspicious if someone she doesn't like calls me.
I don't know what to do and I’m at my wits end. I don't know how to make it stop.
Please answer my query, because I don't know what else to do.
Signed, Feeling Trapped
Dear Feeling Trapped,
Yours is a classic case of a victim who feels she has no options. You have been dependent on your mother for a place to live, for her approval (which you often fail to receive), for the necessities of life. You have fallen into a trap of feeling like you have no options. This is similar to the mindset so often reported by abused wives – they feel they have nowhere to go, that they are powerless to create a better situation for themselves.
Simply put, in your case this is not true.
Let’s look at the positive side of your balance sheet. You are earning an income - I assume this because you say you are trying to save your money. You are an adult (although I’m not sure you have realized this yet), so you are capable of managing life’s logistics on your own.
I’ll stop the list right there, because that is all you need to extract yourself from this situation. Here’s what I recommend:
First, demand your money from your mother. I don’t mean ask for it, and then accept her initial refusal to give it to you. I mean DEMAND IT! Tell her she is going to give it to you, and right now thank you very much, and keep on telling her until she gives in, no matter how long it takes and no matter how much unpleasantness she spews your way in the meantime. Win. Don’t quit until you do. Use whatever leverage you need to, but win this one battle.
Now you have accomplished three things:
1) You have shown your mother that you are not a child anymore. You have started to redefine the relationship between the two of you so you have more of a standing, as befits the adult you are;
2) You have grown the beginnings of a backbone, which will make you feel better about yourself; and
3) You have your money.
With this accomplished, next give yourself a 7-day goal (with a 30-day, absolute, no-excuses deadline) to find another place to live. Talk to girlfriends who could use a roommate. Look at apartments. Read the paper and look for ads for boarders, rooms for rent. Make a plan and find a way, because you absolutely cannot alter the life-long patterns between you and your mother while you are living together.
Once you are out, now you need to start a program to help yourself recover from all the negative messages that have been drummed into your head for so many years.
Check out a free therapist through a local clinic, because you will almost certainly need help identifying all those messages and then discovering the alternative truth about life and about yourself.
Consider limiting the amount of contact you have with your mother for a while. Your progress will be more difficult if every time you take two steps forward she then works hard to drag you three steps back.
Finally, I suggest you read Dismaying Story #56: Divorcing Your Toxic Parents. This will help you understand you are not alone and will point you to other relevant resources.
I find it so sad that you have had to endure such a difficult and clearly abusive situation for so long. The only sadder thing would be if you continued when there is no need to do so.
You can do this! Make up your mind to get your own life, and then go make it happen.